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Iraq Vet in Pennsylvania Murders Was Radically Changed by War and PTSDTim King Salem-News.com
PTSD sufferers can't always leave the war behind.
(ALTOONA, Penn.) - Tragedy and war-inspired Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can meet like a head on crash when the nation's care providers at the Veterans Administration, notorious for lies and deceit, deny our combat veterans the care they need.
This story of deadly, senseless shootings in Altoona, Pennsylvania April 6th is possibly the most tragic story I have ever reported, and if it isn't, it is among the very worst.
The most agonizing fact is that it possibly could have been avoided with a proper diagnosis from the VA. Sergeant Nicholas Horner is a highly decorated war veteran who was sent to Iraq repeatedly. On his third tour things went south and he was sent home.
But according to what we can tell, this soldier, in spite of having his weapon taken away and being sent home early from Iraq, on his third tour, was never officially designated as having PTSD.
Family and friends say this father of two came back from the third tour as a changed man. He had to fight to receive treatment from the VA and nobody should have to do that. In the most basic sense, being damaged goods from the war is not what anyone wishes. They are placed in extremely dangerous positions for long periods of time and they do it for a year each time they deploy.
Our medical writer, Dr. Phillip Leveque, is a combat veteran of WWII and he says nobody can imagine what a soldier goes through when all hell breaks loose in war. I have been to both war theaters and I have seen the soldiers and Marines who have suffered so much.
He explains that PTSD cases, like other medical and psychiatric disorders, are rated on a scale of 1 to 10. The lower the number, the more manageable, the higher the number the more severe.
"Ten's usually commit suicide; nine's often kill somebody," Leveque said.
As we learn from this story, veterans suffering from advanced stages of PTSD can be unpredictable and randomly violent. The thing is, we already know this. An endless list of critics of VA policy lament the ratios of veterans being denied proper care. President Obama spoke about it in recent days.
A close friend of Nick's, Tina Zahurak, wrote to Salem-News.com asking if I would pay attention to this case and help people understand how this veteran was part of the system that is designed to, yet fails to, adequately treat the unique and varying needs of combat vets.
She wrote, "This man was a good man, not a monster or murderer. He saw and was involved in situations that he should've never been in. This is the other side of PTSD, the dark side, the side where one is not treated suitably and fell through the cracks. I was hoping that maybe you or somebody could share his story, so those victims he killed and injured did not die in vain."
Yet the Veterans Administration apparently didn't deem him to be a PTSD case, going no further that stating that he had an "anxiety disorder". If you open a dictionary, you will learn that PTSD is an anxiety disorder, at least that is where the description begins.
Salon.com published an article titled "I am under a lot of pressure to not diagnose PTSD", coincidentally two days later on April 8 2009, featuring an audio clip of a secret recording revealing that the Army and Veterans Administration are pushing medical staffs not to diagnose post-traumatic stress disorder.
The Army and Senate have ignored the implications according to Salon.com, and anyone paying attention to these developments knows this is consistent with the VA's pattern to date of absolutely and completely failing to fulfill its appointed mission. The agency needs funding greatly amplified if they ever want to seriously undertake that commitment.
The system simply hasn't been designed to work with consistency. Some VA centers in wealthy communities packed with retired military like Phoenix, Arizona, receive praise from the vets who use services there.
Other VA centers which see a lot more in the way of young veterans, are overwhelmed sometimes beyond description. The money within the VA is not always fairly distributed.
This is not to imply that there aren't a lot of qualified professionals in the VA. There are those fighting from within and their contributions are nearly invaluable.
The Internet is allowing us to break boundaries, and mounting public pressure will hopefully lead to vastly needed funding and improvements for vets.
Dr. Leveque says the cost of PTSD in our society carries an enormous price tag, that is if it is going to be effectively treated.
"It's going to cost a trillion dollars to settle these guys down. The war in Iraq has been different from anything the U.S. had. In 'Nam you went for 12 months and some went back for repeat tours, usually if they chose to. In this war they just keep being sent back over and over again."
I don't think there is any way for a person to understand what our forces go through in war. If and when they actually make it through a combat tour, these veterans need to have time to live. The government's answer has been the repeated combat tour.
The VA has been caught in their tracks on several occasions, issuing lies to the media about the number of PTSD sufferers and suicide cases specifically.
But each time the people in the VA weather the embarrassment and continue to work there, in spite of their taxpayer-subsidized misinformation campaigns that have led many veterans to their deaths. In the case of Nick Horner, it led to the death of two innocent people, the injury of a third, and the wasted life of a decorated soldier.
One person shot and killed that day was a 19-year old high school senior named Scott Garlick who worked at the Subway. 64-year old Raymond E. Williams who was in a park, was also shot and killed.
Those who fail to understand the scope of PTSD; perhaps we're talking about the majority of people, sometimes tend to dismiss how completely a person's life can be overtaken.
Americans dialed into this subject as a result of the war in Vietnam. The conflict lasted officially from 1964 to 1975, and approximately 58,000 U.S. servicemembers were killed. Far more than 58,000 have since committed suicide.
According to Wikipedia, "Reports of battle-associated stress appear as early as the 6th century BC. Although PTSD-like symptoms have also been recognized in combat veterans of many military conflicts since, the modern understanding of PTSD dates from the 1970s, largely as a result of the problems that were still being experienced by Vietnam veterans."
The term post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD was coined in the mid 1970s. Early in 1978, the term was used in a working group finding presented to the Committee of Reactive Disorders. The term was formally recognized in 1980.
As I read the media reports in Pennsylvania about former Sgt. Nicholas Horner, I read things like "what he deems as post-traumatic stress-related issues" and "claims on his MySpace page that he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder" and I see why the public is so far in the dark when it comes to PTSD.
Another local news source, WINK TV, spoke to a friend of Nick's as well as a local support group for vets with PTSD and presented a larger, more accurate picture of what may have happened. This is a service to everyone who has been affected.
Any degree of sympathy toward Nick will be dismissed by some when they learn that he had been in trouble with police for driving drunk and possession of marijuana shortly before the murders, and that the killings were part of an armed robbery of a Subway restaurant.
But if you look at the Nicholas Horner who is a husband, father of two children, and a friend highly regarded by those who know him, and compare that to the role of murderer of innocent people, the contrast is immeasurable.
How does somebody slip so far?
According to the Website HelpHorner.com which advocates for Nick Horner, a friend of his in the states received a phone call from a soldier serving with in Iraq during his third tour:
"A buddy of his that's a squad leader called me one time and said 'Your boy isn't doing too good over here.' They had to take his weapon a couple of times because he almost opened fire on what he thought was threats."
He said when he heard about the shootings at the Subway restaurant, he knew right away that Horner had gone into combat mode.
"I saw the newscast and then I read the story. Right away I identified that Nick was doing what he was trained to do. He did a rear-door entry. Unfortunately the gentleman he ran into at the park must have been in some sort of zone and posed a threat. That's probably why he tried to take him out," the friend said.
Nick's sister Dawn believes the Army has failed her brother and the whole Altoona and Johnstown area.
"We thought the Army was taking care of his mental problems, we were wrong...They were only concerned about how much money they would lose if they had to treat him and all the other soldier that have PTSD!!! This a crime and we need to prevent this from happening again. Contact your Congressmen and women stand up and help us prevent this from ever happening again."
I explained to Dr. Leveque that some people believe the sounds of the bowling alley Nick had visited just before the Subway robbery, may have been what set the incident off.
Leveque said, "These guys, every person with this level of PTSD has his own trigger point where something sets them off. At this point he's got a hair trigger for PTSD and you don't know what he is going to do."
"As you know there are a lot of returning vets who are killing their wives. If these guys get a little drunk, that's probably the worst thing they can do is lose their inhibition."
Nick is behind bars and there is little chance that he will be anywhere else for a very long time. The lives that were lost on April 6 2009 are scars on families that will probably not heal any time soon. Dr. Leveque says there is no doubt that Nick's PTSD resulted in his insanity, and the murders that took place April 6th were a result of that in his opinion.
I don't know if that will help or slow the healing process for the bereaved, but it is extremely important to note and examine if we ever hope to restore our society to the state it was in prior to the Iraq War.
I think the story of Nick Horner will be the subject of more than one report. I just checked our archives to see what we have written about the Veterans Administration, direct lies the agency has been caught in, and the ever-increasing problem of veteran suicide and more VA lies related to those numbers.
The articles listed below relate specifically to PTSD, the VA's failure to adequately diagnose the disorder, lies and suicides.
These are all Salem-News.com articles. The list is long, but if you are following PTSD, I suggest making this a favorite on your Internet browser because of the references.
Sadly, many of our soldiers are not getting the mental help that they desperately need. Doctors in the military are being told not to diagnose PTSD in an effort to deny our soldiers benefits. Because of this, soldiers are being released back into society with severe problems.
In Nick's case, he knew that he needed help and he actively sought help. However, he was told he simply had an anxiety disorder. Yet this was so severe that the army discharged him early, even sending him home from Iraq.
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